Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Ethics of Charity

Philanthropy is inherently a matter of ethics. We choose to give to and support people and organizations that reflect what we consider to be “good” or “right”. In doing so, we believe that we are also doing “good” and “right”. It’s not a huge stretch to see a certain arrogance in this. Who are we to judge what is ethical? If we reduce it to a matter of what we like or find agreeable we fundamentally abandon our responsibility to the larger community.
But if philanthropy is ethical, it becomes also theological. Ethics without theology is completely negotiable and uncertain. As I begin my immersion in this field I seem to be coming across a lot of “good” being done with no basis in any external framework or belief beyond “charity”. To me that’s not enough.
I believe in a reality that is more complete than what I can see. This doesn’t devalue everything around me, it gives it all a sacred context. I seek to do “good” in the world because I believe at my core that it reflects the passion of the Creator and brings me, our partners, and those they serve more into unity, not with some vague and poetic sense of spirituality or goodness, but with a very real and specific God who desires to be revealed and responded to.
It is this conviction that makes it possible for me to approach philanthropy with sincere hope and a sense of justice. We are seeking to participate in making right some of the myriad things that have gone wrong because all of us have selfishly believed that we could function as independent arbiters of what is “good” and “right”.
I also acknowledge that there is always a humility required for theology. I can only know God through my experience of His revelation and my own responses. This requires that I continue to pursue an active relationship wherein I am progressively transformed into the man he dreamed of me becoming when he made me.

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